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Tents along the Grand Canal in Dublin Alamy Stock Photo

High Court told Ireland is breaching human rights law by failing to house homeless asylum seekers

A case against the State has been brought by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.


THE HIGH COURT has heard that the State is in breach of human rights law by failing to house almost 3,000 people who have sought international protection in Ireland since last year.

The court began hearing opening arguments in a case taken by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) against the State today.

The commission is seeking a declaration by the court that the State is failing to adequately provide asylum seekers with shelter, food and access to basic hygiene facilities on top of a weekly allowance.

It believes the State is breaching the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights and the Irish Constitution. 

Minister For Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth Roderic O’Gorman, the State and Attorney General Rossa Fanning are listed as defendants in the case.

The State denies the allegations.

Latest figures from the Department of Integration show that around 2,000 people who have sought international protection in the past year have not yet received an offer of accommodation from the State.

They include dozens of asylum seekers who have been living in tents along the Grand Canal in Dublin and, formerly, next to the International Protection office on Mount Street.

Outlining the commission’s case this morning, senior counsel for IHREC Eoin McCullough told the court that the State is required under Article 1 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union to provide an adequate standard of living to asylum seekers.

He claimed that the State has failed to do so in the case of 2,807 people who have arrived in Ireland since the commission’s case was first lodged with the court in December.

Of these, 1,715 people were still seeking an offer of accommodation on 10 May last.

“The court will have seen that they are all unaccompanied males,” McCullough said.

“There are real risks to their physical security and their health arising from their circumstances.”

Counsel referred to a case involving an asylum seeker last year, in which the High Court ruled that the State had breached European law by failing to provide the individual with material needs such as accommodation, food and basic hygiene facilities.

McCullough told the court that in that case, the State had accepted its failings; however, he said it was not doing so in the current case of more than 2,800 people, despite their circumstances being the same.

“They premise that change of position by saying there’s been an increase of €75 in the weekly expense allowance that is paid to unaccommodated international protection applicants,” he said.

McCullough also told the court that the total weekly payment of €113.80 was “manifestly insufficient” to enable people to obtain accommodation, food and clothing on their own.

“The amount of financial allowances provided must be enough to meet the basic needs of asylum seekers, including a dignified standard of living,” he said.

“Difficulty in providing accommodation just doesn’t excuse [the State],” he said.

Street homelessness 

The court also heard that the State is placing an undue emphasis on the issue of street homelessness in its defence of the commission’s claim.

McCullough said that the State is only defending itself with respect to the asylum seekers who are living in tents in Dublin city.

But he argued that there is no reason not to consider those not living in tents as homeless, even if they have found alternative accommodation arrangements.

He said that even when asylum seekers are not living in tents, like one person who found a place to sleep in a mosque and another who was able to stay with person, the State still has an obligation to provide them with accommodation. 

“The fact that some of those who were not offered accommodation were able to make other arrangements is neither here nor there,” McCullough said.

He also told the court that the ongoing shortage of suitable accommodation does not prevent the State from having to meet its human rights obligations, and that simply providing a tent was not enough.

“It is no answer to say ‘I’m doing my best’. This is not an obligation of best efforts; it is a legal obligation to meet a standard,” he told the court.

Booking accommodation

The court also heard a number of statements by asylum seekers and voluntary workers as part of affidavits submitted to the commission to support its case.

In one affidavit, former IHREC chief Sinead Gibney outlined how, based on figures from Social Justice Ireland, the weekly payment for asylum seekers would need to rise to €318.53 per week just to ensure those in receipt of it are not at risk of poverty.

Another affidavit outlined how people seeking asylum would struggle to obtain accommodation in Dublin even on that higher level of payment.

The same person stated that a search of an online hotel booking platform showed that rooms in the capital ranged from €20 to €200 for an individual per night midweek, and from €40 to €240 per night at weekends (when prices are more expensive due to demand).

It also stated that a search of hostels showed prices of around €20 per night for an individual, with nearly all such facilities requiring a credit card – something which asylum seekers would not have access to – and some having a maximum length of stay. 

Another affidavit from Hannah Dwyer of the Irish Refugee Council said that many asylum seekers experienced problems booking accommodation because they lacked sufficient identification to do so, like a passport or driving licence.

Dwyer’s affidavit also outlined other issues faced by asylum seekers in Dublin, including being scared or feeling threatened while living on the street, and an inability to understand information given to them by officials because of language barriers.

The hearing will resume tomorrow when the State will submit its defence, and is expected to last until Friday.

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